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The Memory of Old Jack

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  1,513 Ratings  ·  197 Reviews
In a rural Kentucky river town, “Old Jack” Beechum, a retired farmer, sees his life again through the shades of one burnished day in September 1952. Bringing the earthiness of America’s past to mind, The Memory of Old Jack conveys the truth and integrity of the land and the people who live it. Through the eyes of one man can be seen the values Americans strive to recapture ...more
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by christianaudio Fiction (first published February 1st 1974)
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Bienzrw Only halfway finished, but it certainly feels that way to me. It's universal in that it explores the inner thoughts and feelings of individuals, some…moreOnly halfway finished, but it certainly feels that way to me. It's universal in that it explores the inner thoughts and feelings of individuals, some of whom have a conscious awareness of them and others perhaps sense them obliquely but would find it difficult to put them into words. Hannah seems more fully conscious: Old Jack both is, and is not, I think. (less)
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Aug 31, 2008 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Reading this book is like dreaming coherently--it just unfolds in front of you like liquid, with images so clear and so simple that you're instantly standing in the bodies of the characters--treading the dirt they walk on, breathing through their mouths... It is a patient book, and you must be patient with it and trust its pace. Wendell Berry is incredible in many ways, and this book is beautiful. It is a journey through Old Jack's life, but the imagery and ideas an ...more
Joel Pinckney
May 29, 2016 Joel Pinckney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-readers
What stood out to me in this reading of Old Jack were the narrator's words on ambition, in conjunction with the well established sense of place present in all of Berry's fiction. Through his narrator, Berry offers a critique of unconsidered ambition, or ambition that adheres thoughtlessly to the ladder of success offered by the surrounding culture. This emerges first in the character of Andy Catlett, who wrestles with the knowledge that he has a powerful and able mind and wants to make something ...more
Wow, this one is kind of hard for me to review. I have tried to read so many things by Wendell Berry, probably for about the past ten years, and I've never managed more than a short essay or a dozen pages of a novel before giving up. I've always felt guilty for this. A farmer from Kentucky who writes about the evils of modern agriculture, the joys of engaging in meaningful work, and the importance of being connected to nature and place, it is all right up my alley, why couldn't I get into it? Ma ...more
Simon Stegall
Apr 26, 2016 Simon Stegall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hold on. Trying to reattach my heartstrings here.


Ok. Now I can start. With many readers, reflective/poetical/memoir-type fiction can, depending on the readers' experiences and dispositions, cause either eye-dabbing or eyebrow raising; the eye-dabbers over-empathizing with the pregnant emotional themes of memoir types and the eyebrowers perhaps unable to empathize with too much sentiment. Wendell Berry's fiction is impossible to see this way. When his writing risks sentimentalism it plants t
Dec 08, 2008 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I believe this to be one of Wendell Berry's finest. In it, he recounts the memories of an old man at the end of a long and eventful life. A man who spanned a good bit of the history of the fictional community of Port William, Kentucky. As he remembers or greets different characters, he remembers some story about that character and each one comes alive for those few, brief pages it takes to recount the tale. I cried at the end, but they were tears of recognition of a life well-lived.
Jul 02, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. Wendell Berry's writing is so beautiful and elegiac, it makes my heart hurt. In a good way.
Feb 19, 2012 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pacific-u-mfa
Jack Driscoll, my MFA advisor, recommended this book to me and I recommend it for many reasons: long lines, ambling and ample rhythms, and full-mouthed words like ripe fruit, anabashedly poetic in their slowness but never showy. I agree with the reviewer in Library Journal that the chapter about Jack’s courtship of his wife is especially beautiful, and so sad: “He was misled not by Ruth but by his own desire, so strong for her that it saw possibilities that did not exist, and believed in what it ...more
Jan 12, 2014 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full of himself, confident and cocky as a young man, Jack belongs to a farming community where families and neighbors work side by side to plant the fields, raise a barn or harvest the annual tobacco crop. Confusing lust with love, Jack plucks from a distant town a wife, Ruth, taking her into a marriage doomed by misunderstanding to leave both lonely and alone for all the years they share the farm house. You can't help but sympathize with both of them even as their walls grow thicker by the day, ...more
Jan 22, 2014 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, yes, yes. Each sentence is a jewel from this farmer/poet/novelist. Read it carefully and within a few days' time. Don't miss it if you value land, relationships, reflection, drama.
Dec 09, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Berry's poetic sensibilities really allow the prose to sing. There's a rhythm to the language that seems to follow the rhythms of natural things--seasons, rivers, harvests.

Berry uses memory here in a couple of intertwining ways. On the one hand, the book follows the memories of "Old Jack" Beechum as he reflects back on the eight-plus decades of his life. While they build slowly, his courtship with Ruth and the episode with Will Wells take the book in surprising and heartfelt directions.

The Memory of Old Jack is a two-part love story; a love affair with the land he lives and works on and the lost love in his failed marriage. Berry is beautifully poetic in his description of Jack's deep connection to the land. Although I am not a farmer I have a deeper sense of appreciation for those that survive by their own hands, working hard sun up to sundown in their land in the midst of unpredictability and instant destruction by weather. Berry paints a clear picture of rural America and t ...more
Oct 20, 2008 Reid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wendell Berry is a true poet of the land, and imparts its cadences to every word he puts to paper. What in another might be a maudlin seriousness is crafted by Berry into a heartfelt beauty. What might otherwise be taken as a pointless sentimentality for times and ways long past is transformed by his deep affection for and knowledge of his characters into the communication of a deep yearning for connection. Those of us so thoroughly urbanized that such a connection to the land is purely theoreti ...more
Aug 14, 2015 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of Berry's earlier stories of his Port William tales, this follows the life of one, elderly man in early autumn of 1952, as he recollects his life and yet is present in his now.

Beautiful story, with some hard edges to it, that reflects on a life that had happened, the rapidly way that life and lifestyle diminished, and yet with a glimmer of a humanity that burns deep.
Mar 14, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Brian Russ
This is actually the second time I've read this book, which says a lot about how much this book means to me as I rarely re-read books. This is one of my all-time favorite books, although it is probably not for everyone. I just read it with a book group this time, and we talked a bit about Wendell Berry's unique writing style. Suffice it to say, it's not for everyone. Everything he writes is like poetry, and as such some may find him a bit ponderous, maybe even opaque. Nonetheless, I think this b ...more
Jan 27, 2008 April rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This little book deals beautifully and gracefully with some of the biggest and most divisive issues in modern american society. It delves into those opposing forces of the "getting ahead" and the idea of a sense of place and the deep sense of unease many of us feel at ebing pulled between the two.

I agree with a review that noted, the respect Berry gives both his subject and his reader, which makes reading him a singular pleasure.
Aug 09, 2008 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Once again, Wendell Berry knocks it out of the park. With flawless insight and remarkable brevity, Berry touches on everything that is important in human life (forgiveness, art, betrayal, family, love, work, loyalty, place, hope, redemption...) and draws out the connections and tensions between them all. On top of that, this is just a lovely story. Read it and read it again.
Aug 02, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-to-a-friend
I always enjoy reading Wendell Berry's essays -- he shoots straight from the hip and doesn't mix words; not so with his fiction. This book is like a lazy river ... always moving, twisting and turning. He weaves his words and thoughts through the pages so smoothly that the reader can't help but be immersed in the setting. 'Old Jack' reminds me of what must have been going on in my Great Uncles' minds when the world was whisking past them and all they could hold onto were the memories of times out ...more
I loved the way Berry's book starts with a mature farmer and works through a series of flashbacks through the whole of his life and how it intersects with family members, hired hands, other residents of the county and (of course) the land.

As a gerontologist, I was very interested in seeing how the following elements were depicted: late life challenges and strengths, the function of memory, shifting relationships through the decades, and intergenerational relationships. Berry had provocative tre
Jan 01, 2014 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, audiobook
Another beautiful book by one of my favorite authors, an eloquent writing surrounding Jack who in his old age reminisces about his life, in particular his marriage. There is a common thread that explores not only marriage but relationships in general which also includes the relationship of these people to the land.
Aug 29, 2015 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this today and have been living with its sadness for several days. Especially yesterday, I had to keep remind myself that I didn't need to grieve for myself and my own failed relationships, that thankfully, while not perfect of course, mine are mostly whole and good and for that I am so grateful. It's an incredible book. Please read it and just embrace the tears (they started in chapter 1 for me).

P.S. Jack's critique of TV is perhaps the best I've ever read: "That a whole roomful
Betsy Alles
May 26, 2008 Betsy Alles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Wendall Berry is delicious food for the soul. Simple, deep and brilliant. This is my second novel -- first was Jayber Crow.
Matt Beard
Dec 17, 2014 Matt Beard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wendell Berry is a wonderful teller of stories. He is particularly masterful at recounting the whole of a person's life in the midst of a few pages while never leaving his reader feel as though they have missed any of the substance that makes up that life. Even here when he sets the life of Jack Beechum against the backdrop of a single day, not a single word is wasted and one feels as though not a single word is missed. From sunrise to sunset on Old Jack's last day, we get to know him as he was ...more
Oct 11, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Margaret's words have made an occasion of his departure; that, he will realize later, was her gift to him. She has reached deeply into him, into that luminous landscape of his mind where the past lives, where all of them - some who are now dead - are together, and where they will all still be together long after many of those now living will be dead. She has shaken him out of what might have been the simplicity of his leaving and has made it as complex as it really is, as she would have it be. ...more
Jan 26, 2009 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody, but especially someone who values work well done, especially the old kinds of work
Once again, I loved Berry's writing. This book has a lot to say about marriage, comparing Old Jack and Ruth's to Hannah and Nathan Coulter's. At first, I didn't know where Berry was going when he seemed to change gears and started talking about Hannah but it soon became evident that he was contrasting the two marriages. I don't want to be a spoiler so I won't say more, but if you read this book (and read Hannah Coulter) you will get a very good picture of the effect of a woman's love and respect ...more
Sherry (sethurner)
Jul 01, 2009 Sherry (sethurner) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audio
I picked up an audio version of The Memory of Old Jack for two reasons. First, Berry came highly recommended by Wallace Stegner, an author I very much admire. Second, Berry is scheduled to speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival in the fall,and I wanted to have read some of his fiction before hearing him speak.

The story unfolds slowly, no fast action here. Jack Beechum is the main character, an old farmer, whose life remembered makes up the book. The story takes place on the last day of Jack's lif
For me, unhappy marriages and affairs pretty much never make an enjoyable story. Which is one of the reasons that I didn’t care for this book.

I wanted to like it. I thought Wendell Berry’s collection of short stories entitled Fidelity had some truly beautiful moments in it. It was well written and had characters that I connected with. So I had high hopes for this book. My expectations were also shaped by the fact that several people I deeply respect have been impacted by Wendell Berry’s works. B
Apr 15, 2008 Sluggo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I don't always agree with his political writing (some being sensible, some downright noodle-headed), his fiction is beautiful. Set in the farm culture he continued to live in himself, the books communicate the slowed down sense of time and the un-sentimental depth of connection between the people who lived and worked together in rural Kentucky. I get the same feeling from his work as I do sitting under a tree in the woods. It feels real and good.

This particular book was amazing in the w
Dec 30, 2015 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dale Barlow
Dec 21, 2013 Dale Barlow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WOW, what a poignant story of Old Jack’s last days and the honor Jack displayed to others/was displayed to him. Definitely not a saint, as Jack (married)was in love with another woman, who deceased—other than that, I can’t think of a fault. I read this book and often (& I do mean often) thought of my Grandfather Warren as my own old Jack. I would read a chapter at night, start another but be unable to finish the 2nd chapter, wake up in the middle of the night, finish the 2nd chapter (I did t ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Pam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a deeply satisfying read. Old Jack's memories of more than 90 years of life are tough. He had a hard life as a farmer in the late 19th and early 20th century. You feel his numerous disappointments as he relives them in him memory. Just as the reader starts to cast judgement on his life as lonely and futile, a shift happens. Jack's memories turn to the people who mean the most to him and to the work that gave his life meaning.
This book reminded me of the Frank Capra movie "It's a Wonderf
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Wendell Berry is a conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English and poet. He was born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky where he now lives on a farm. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America."
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“Now when he walked in his fields and pastures and woodlands he was tramping into his mind the shape of the land, his thought becoming indistinguishable from it, so that when he came to die his intelligence would subside into it like its own spirit.” 3 likes
“The work satisfied something deeper in him than his own desire. It was as if he went to his fields in the spring, not just because he wanted to, but because his father and grandfather before him had gone because they wanted to - because, since the first seeds were planted by hand in the ground, his kinsmen had gone each spring to the fields. When he stepped into the first opening furrow of a new season he was not merely fulfilling an economic necessity; he was answering the summons of an immemorial kinship; he was shaping a passage by which an ancient vision might pass once again into the ground.” 3 likes
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